LIFO stands for "last in, first out" and describes how nearly all Michigan school districts choose which teachers to lay off when downsizing becomes a necessity. The Michigan Education Association union bargains for LIFO in school employee contracts, yet ironically, it profiled a Jackson teacher who fell victim to the practice in the latest edition of its monthly magazine, the "MEA Voice."
Sarah Cunningham is an English and history teacher in Jackson. The MEA Voice praises her accomplishments of earning an M.A. from Concordia University, writing two books and contributing to many others. It includes an excerpt from one of her books, a personal story that demonstrates Cunningham’s concern for her students and commitment to be a positive role model.
The profile also mentioned that Cunningham writes a blog. Not covered in the union’s article but described on her blog, the Jackson teacher received a pink slip from her school district. Cunningham expressed surprise, yet this is not the first time she has been impacted by seniority-based staffing decisions. In each of the past three years, she has found herself shuffled into a new teaching slots, purely on the basis of seniority.
As declining enrollments and rising labor costs force many districts into downsizing in Michigan schools, such disruptions are all too common. Young teachers in particular may feel helpless when forced to endure seniority-based staffing decisions.
The problem is that the practice completely disregards classroom performance and the best interest of students. School boards are forbidden by union contracts from considering a teacher’s performance, work ethic, parental satisfaction or any other factor except for the individual’s time on the job.
Proponents of seniority-based staffing might argue that boiling staffing decisions down to a simple numbers game is the only way to ensure equal treatment. Yet how fair is it really to treat teachers who provide more value to students, parents and the community no differently from ones who provide less value?
Our public school system does not exist to serve teachers. Taxpayers fund the system at extraordinarily generous levels to maximize the opportunities for the community’s children, not the comfort and convenience of school employees. LIFO serves the latter at the expense of the former.